I Can’t Pray Due to My Mental Illnesses

12 February, 2017
Q I am a revert to Islam and due to having schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder. I find it almost impossible to pray and I can't concentrate on my salah. I find it hard to get going and do things, such as self-care. How can I get into doing my salah?



As-Salamu ‘Alaikum wa Rahmatulahi wa Barakatuh dear sister,

Ma sha’ Allah, you have been guided to the correct path. May Allah (swt) keep you on the straight path and make it easy for you to establish your regular prayers without distraction. It can be very frustrating doing something that you really want to do and know you are obliged to when you have such difficulties. Reaching out to find a way to overcome such difficulties is a sure sign that your intentions are pure, and this is the most important thing in the eyes of Allah (swt).

“Allah does not impose blame upon you for what is unintentional in your oaths, but He imposes blame upon you for what your hearts have earned. And Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing.” (Qur’an, 2:225)

Prayer is an obligation for all of us. Alhamdulihah, the very fact that you are able to write to us and seek assistance suggests that whilst you are suffering with the consequences of mental health problems, your mind is still in a sound state. However, the symptoms of your illness make praying very difficult for you, which causes you so much distress right now. In sha’ Allah, something that Allah (swt) looks upon favorably will come to your assistance if you are patient and persistent in your prayer, despite distractions.

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]”. (Qur’an, 2:45)

We are all tested in one way or another, and this is a test for you to remain patient with.

Ma sha’ Allah, you have been trying your best to fulfill your duty to pray. There are a number of different things you can also try with regards to improving concentration in salaah.

  • Make sure to begin by protecting yourself from Shaytaan so that you do not become victim to his whispers that will distract you from prayer.
  • Keep Allah (swt) in mind with all you do. This can even be as simple as saying “bismillah” before you do anything such as cooking, going anywhere, or eating.
  • When praying, this will help you to have in mind that Allah (swt) always watches you, and He (swt) knows when you don’t concentrate. The fear of Allah (swt) will encourage you to keep focused in the remembrance that He (swt) is watching you.
  • Another technique to improve concentration in salah is to learn the meanings of the surahs that you recite. This way, you will be more connected to what you say and, therefore, will be more focused and engaged.
  • Take your time in prayer; don’t rush. Give yourself time to process the meaning of what you are saying and why you are doing it. Pause in each position before moving to the next.
  • Organize your day around prayer and give yourself plenty of time to complete your prayer so that you are not distracted with thoughts about what else you might want to be doing in that moment.

Beyond salah, self-care can become a difficult issue for people with conditions such as schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder. Problems with self-care are commonly cited as a symptom in both cases.

One good way to increase motivation is to set achievable goals, even if it is just something small to begin with, something that will keep you motivated from day to day. Writing these goals somewhere you can see them each day (such as on the fridge) will not only encourage accountability on your part, but will allow you to visually see progress towards your goals on a daily basis. Once you achieve something, allow yourself to have a positive association with getting motivated and achieving something. This will help to motivate you further with other tasks.

Engaging in activities will have multiple effects on your life. To make this easier and more fun, you might involve someone else, too. For example, when exercising, have a friend with you who will push you. Exercising is a particularly good example here because not only it makes you feel good, but it releases natural chemicals that are good for your psychological well-being and, thus, will reinforce the positive effects that will impact on your desire to continue with the routine. Exercising will also give you a general push of energy and concentration that may also have the knock-on effect on increasing concentration during prayer.

Another task that might be useful for you, especially as a convert, could be joining any local Islamic study group in your locality. This is a chance to learn more about Islam as well as developing good relationships with other like-minded sisters. Not only will such an activity assist you in keeping Allah (swt) in mind more, but learning knowledge about Islam will increase your ability to concentrate in your prayers as you appreciate more about the religion underpinning this very obligation.

May Allah (swt) bring you ease with your conditions, and make it easy for you to recover effectively from the symptoms that cause you most distress.



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